Massachusetts Senator Eric Lesser suggested on Tuesday during a State House News Service virtual forum that his chamber has not yet reached a consensus on the House-backed idea, three months after he declared the Senate to be “ready” to approve legislation on sports betting. However, he catalogued it as a “top-tier issue”.
As co-chair of the Economic Development Committee, Lesser said his version of the bill is still being discussed and negotiated in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, but added that senators are still working on emphasizing the proposal on consumer protection terms.
“We are doing our best to balance the fun of sports betting with some of the elements that we have to keep mindful of and be mindful of when you’re talking about a gambling product. Like any bill, you’ve got a process of working with the duly elected members of the chamber on their different issues and their concerns”, Lesser said, and assured that he is “confident that something will move forward”.
In terms of dates and deadlines, Lesser stated that he believes the Senate is getting close to acting before the end of the year, “but I do think in front of our minds, and a big priority for me is going to be making sure those consumer protection and game integrity issues are really front and center”.
When it comes to tackling problem gambling, Lesser’s version of the bill, contrary to the House-approved one by a 156-3 vote in July, prohibits the use of credit cards to wager when it comes to online betting.
“The idea that somebody somewhat impulsively could rack up massive credit card bills from their couch who might have an addiction issue or otherwise have a gambling problem - that’s a big concern”, he said.
College sports have also been part of this debate, as the House-approved bill allows betting on the outcome of collegiate level contests but not on the performances of individual athletes, who largely remain unpaid. In Lesser’s proposal, college athletic betting is straightforward off the table.
Rep. Jerald Parisella, who also took part during the State House News Service virtual forum, said Massachusetts would become an “outlier” if it carved colleges out of its sports betting authorization, as all 31 other states and the District of Columbia, where gambling on sports is legal, allow wagers on at least some collegiate contests. He also pointed out that this sort of prohibition might cause consumers to flock to other states.
“They’re going to just continue going to New Hampshire, continue going to Rhode Island, to Connecticut or use the offshore books which allow that”, Parisella stated. “We want to give them a product that is legal, that’s regulated, that provides consumer choice”.
“Obviously, March Madness and the bowl games are big business. A lot of people bet on that. We are not denying reality, but there also needs to be an acknowledgement on the other side of that, that is different when you’re dealing with 18-and 19-year-old unpaid college athletes versus pro teams”, Lesser said, and suggested that a fair procedure would be to start off with pro sports and “see how it goes”.
Massachusetts has been discussing the legalization of sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court empowered states to do so in May 2018. 31 states and the District of Columbia, including Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York allow sports betting.
During the last session, the House included an authorization in its version of an economic development bill, but the Senate declined to advance that language into the final version.
Daniel Wallach, the co-founder of the University of New Hampshire School of Law's Sports Wagering and Integrity Program, said at Tuesday's event that he had been "bullish" about the prospects of legal sports betting in Massachusetts because it does not have the same constitutional restrictions that many other states feature.
Wallach said DraftKings, the Boston-based mobile daily fantasy sports betting company, has reported about 30% of its business in New Hampshire is "directly attributable to Massachusetts residents crossing over the border," indicating an appetite among consumers.
"Every time gambling of any type has come up before the Legislature, it's been a long debate and a very thorough debate," Lesser said.